The King of Cups

Even with all of the reassurance I had from last week’s cards, I still went into my appointment on edge.

(Okay, so I had a full blown panic attack and had to ask the receptionist if there was somewhere I could lay down and try to relax. Everyone was incredibly chill and understanding about it, though, which was nice.)

The parking garage felt claustrophobic. I had to ride in a hot, stuffy elevator. I had no idea what kind of tests would be required of me, and knew this might be my only chance to have them. What if the doctor asked for twelve tubes of blood again? What if I couldn’t convince them to take my blood pressure at the end of the appointment, instead of the beginning?

As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry. Not only was everyone really kind and reassuring, my nurse practitioner is awesome. I was never made to feel that I was wasting her time. She thoroughly explained everything to me. She took my medical history with no fuss, no sighing, and no muttering. There were no awkward first-visit dives into my parent’s marital history. I left the office feeling empowered, like I knew what was going on. I have hope that, even if the h. pylori test is negative, there are other possibilities. I also have samples of FDgard, which I didn’t even know was a thing before this.
I’m probably fixable, you guys.

(The real kicker, though, was finding out that I shouldn’t’ve had the h. pylori test in the first doctor’s office to begin with. I had no idea that using antacids in the previous two weeks might alter the result — I could’ve ended up with a false negative, wasting more of both his time and mine for nothing.)

So, now I’m pretty much just dealing with the symptoms for another week and a half until I can get a few more tests. I just have to wait.

I’m not good at waiting. I can be patient, but I hate the powerless feeling of sitting on my hands as minutes to become hours and hours to become days. I didn’t even have any good questions for my tarot deck this time — I just wanted to know what kind of energy this week is bringing. What can I focus on to help the time pass?

I drew King of Cups.

Cups is the suit of the emotions, and the King is the master of them. He is relaxed, balanced between the heart and the mind, neither devoid of reason nor incapable of empathy. When he turns up, it’s an invitation to explore the feelings around a situation — are there emotional factors that are making things more difficult than they need to be?

… Yeeeah, kinda.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy managing my physical symptoms. While I know that they aren’t caused by stress or fear, the anxiety they trigger still needs managing. When I do self-work, I usually focus on panic disorder and finding ways to manage unpreventable panic attack symptoms as they arise. Now, I should probably look more deeply into strategies for managing my medical anxiety, specifically — it’s going to be hard to go through rounds of testing and follow-up visits if I can barely make myself walk through the door.

Besides, I’ve got time to kill.

 

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Painting What You See

cropped-drawingThe simplest piece of artistic instruction is also the most useful: Draw or paint what you can see.

It’s surprisingly difficult to keep our minds from filling in the blanks — we see a cup, and we know the cup is round and three dimensional. Our eyes tell us the mouth of the cup is a flattened oval, but that isn’t what our hands want to make. Our brains know better than what our eyes tell us.

The ability to “know better” and anticipate shape and distance like that is an adaptation that’s probably helped us, in an evolutionary sense, but it isn’t much use when it comes to accurately translating a three dimensional object onto a two dimensional space. That’s when the admonishment to create only what you can see becomes useful.

For me, it’s also a bit ironic.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I was diagnosed with idiopathic intracranial hypertension about seven years ago. It used to be known as “pseudotumor cerebri” — in essence, a brain tumor that isn’t. It mimics all of the symptoms of having a large brain tumor, but without any mass present. One of its hallmarks? Vision changes. As cerebrospinal fluid pressure increases, so does damage to the optic nerves.

I can’t drive, because I can’t see well enough to. I have dead spots in my vision, which are almost impossible to describe. It isn’t really not seeing anything, it’s seeing nothing, in the same way that House of Leaves‘ Zampanò defines uncanny as ‘full of not knowing.’ Lines and space warp and deform around their edges like miniature event horizons, wholly confined to my eyes. Sometimes, I turn my head too quickly and see showers of golden sparks, or scintillations like the sun reflecting on water.

My brain often tries to “help,” by compensating for the strangely existentially horrific idea of seeing nothing, like a kind of neurological horror vacui. It inserts spectacularly mundane things into the places where my eyes don’t work anymore — a spare copy of my laptop stuck in my peripheral vision, or a stack of books I’ve never owned. A poached egg in the middle of the floor. A glass of water that yields only air when I reach for it.
I’m not sure why it does this, but it feels like the bones of a good short story. You would think that having your brain spontaneously insert images into your vision would be the opposite of helpful… Unless hallucinating several bunches of bananas was somehow preferable to what it’s trying to protect you from seeing. Fun!

If I said that coming to terms with the idea of potentially, possibly, let’s-face-it-probably going blind was difficult, I’d be lying, because that’d imply that it was possible to begin with. I don’t know that it’s any harder for me because I work with visual media — who wouldn’t be upset at not being able to see anymore?

I’m at the point where my vision loss has slowed considerably, if not entirely stabilized. With time (and, hopefully, a prolonged remission), some of my vision might come back. A lot of it won’t.

Sometimes, I do paint what I see.

And it’s fucking weird.

The World

Does this stranger really expect me to tell him every traumatic event I’ve ever been through? I thought. As I looked at the tiny laptop balanced on the edge of the examination table, I began to doubt it had enough hard drive space to hold this particular interview.

Let me back up.

My S.O. didn’t just manage to get me a doctor’s appointment — he managed to get me one with the doctor I’d originally wanted to see. Someone dedicated to restorative medicine, with rave reviews praising his patience and understanding. So why, now that I was actually in front of him, did I get the distinct impression that I was a waste of his time?

I’d filled out the medical history forms as best as I was able. There was a lot to fit, and not nearly enough space to do it in. I prioritized, skipping over a bout of flu here, or an ear infection there. I fit in everything I could remember. Still, it wasn’t enough. He said he wouldn’t get to examine me, because he had to spend so much time going over my medical history now. He wanted to know everything — why did I move to California? Was the pomegranate orchard there regular, or organic?

“What am I even here for?” He finally asked. I was stunned by it, but, by then, I also wasn’t even sure how to answer him. I was doubled over in pain, to the point where it was hard to walk. I said that I was hoping for help with what I thought was an ulcer. A referral to a specialist, maybe? A recommendation?

He wanted to delve into emotional trauma. His voice was accusatory, his sighs impatient — as if I’d left my parents’ divorce out of my medical history on purpose. (I didn’t know it mattered. I also didn’t find it particularly traumatic. If anything, it was a relief.) I’d also neglected to mention a lot of other things. How traumatic did something have to be to count? How far back did he want me to go? Was evading a kidnapper at age 13 good enough, or did I have to go back to being sexually assaulted at 5? Maybe the time a man I’d briefly dated decided to stalk me at my job? Or should I cut right to finding out that one of my room mates was murdered?

I didn’t think his laptop had the space for me. Judging by his words, he didn’t have it, either. I only told him about the divorce.

I mentioned intracranial hypertension. He said he didn’t “know if that’s even a thing.”  (Trust me — it is.) I felt my stomach drop into my knees. What was I going to do if I needed to go on Diamox again? Or worse, needed a shunt? I don’t have vision loss and brain damage for no reason, dude. 

While I waited to have blood drawn, he patted my shoulder in passing in a manner I think he thought was reassuring. It wasn’t.

I’m not good with blood draws. I always faint, I usually need a butterfly needle, and giving any amount beyond what’s needed for a basic metabolic panel has always made me sick. When I found out he needed twelve tubes of blood, I asked if there was a way to split the requisition — I’ve had to do it before. Most of the blood tests were for thyroid hormones, a CBC, blood lipids, the usual checkup stuff. Maybe I could give some blood that day, then go to the lab on another day to get tested for Lyme disease and the other myriad tests he’d ordered? The phlebotomist (a very kind, patient woman who really seemed to be doing her best) asked if it was possible. A few minutes later, I was given the requisition form for all twelve tubes of blood and orders to go to the lab and make them deal with it instead. At that point, I could almost feel the words “pain in the ass” branded into my skin.

When my S.O. and I got back to the car, I was fighting tears. Not only was I put in a vulnerable position by a stranger who apparently couldn’t care less, I knew it was going to be awhile before I got the help I needed. I’d laid there, curled up like a prawn, in pain, and wasted the doctor’s time because I’d neglected to mention my parents splitting up when I was 4.

I was afraid to tell my S.O. that I had no intention of going back for the actual physical exam. Not because I was afraid of his reaction, but he’d worked so hard to get me in to see this doctor — making phone calls when I couldn’t, rearranging his schedule so he could be there for me. I had a recommendation for a gastroenterologist and a neurologist, did I even need this doctor right now? I could see a specialist, get this problem under control, and worry about preventative care once I was able to… you know, eat and walk properly again.

Undecided, I figured I’d do a reading. I don’t generally let cards make major life decisions for me, but I really didn’t know what to do. My gut was telling me that continuing to see this doctor was not going to do me much good right now… If I wanted to be condescended to by someone who doesn’t know anything about IIH, I could get that at a walk-in clinic for a fraction of the cost.
Then again, my gut has also made me view plain rice and dry toast with intense dread and suspicion, so maybe it’s not always to be trusted.

Should I find a new primary doctor, continue seeing this one, or follow my instincts and just call the gastro?
I drew the Five of Pentacles, the Ten of Pentacles, and the World.

Finding a new doctor would be the economical choice — it’d definitely cost less to see a conventional doctor over an integrative one, even though this guy takes my insurance. Continuing to see this doctor would yield rewards far down the line. Going right to the specialist would be the best option of all.

The World is one of the most positive cards in the deck. It is harmony, fulfillment, and satisfaction. It’s the card of ultimate achievement, of everything finally meshing together. It brings a sense of joyful closure. It’s exactly what I need. As soon as I saw it, I felt a surge of relief — moving on isn’t a mistake, and I should pay attention to my instincts.

I made an appointment with the gastroenterologist. If nothing else, at least this doctor pointed me towards someone who might be able to help me better.

 

 

 

 

The Two of Cups

Can I complain about stomachs for a bit?

My life has been pretty limited by health issues for awhile — I don’t just mean intracranial hypertension, either. I try not to dwell on it, because that’s not really helpful for me. If anything, it just keeps me from being useful when and where I can.

Sometimes, though? I just want to be a gigantic baby about it, dammit.

Part of my problem is a digestive issue that, to date, three different ERs, five doctors, a barium swallow, three ultrasounds, four x-rays, and countless dietary adjustments have not solved. There’s still a lot of diagnoses to rule out (I’ve never been scoped, or tested for H. pylori, Celiac disease, or SIBO, for example), but it’s been a long slog finding a doctor willing to pursue things and not just shrug and hand me a PPI . I’ve been told to “come back if it still isn’t better in a week” when it hasn’t been better in years, and, when I do, it’s another shrug and a recommendation to try fasting for a day.

If I fasted every time I felt sick, I’d be dead.

Getting insurance was a pain. Finding a doctor who I felt confident would actually help me continues to be a pain. Some won’t do anything for me because they have no experience with idiopathic IH (statistically speaking, I’m one of 7 people in this entire city who has it. I guess I can’t be too surprised). It’s frustrating. It’s disheartening. It’s very… physically unpleasant.

Through it, my S.O. has been a huge help. He calls doctors for me, sends in paperwork, deals with the ongoing, complicated mess of adding me to his insurance. Sometimes, I feel powerless not only because I’m physically unwell, but because that illness makes me less able to advocate for myself. I don’t like having him do this, so part of my contribution was hunting down a doctor I thought would be willing to do more than order another ultrasound and ask me, for the nth time, if I’m really, absolutely sure this isn’t all just anxiety. I even found one!

Unfortunately, they don’t answer the phone.

“I can get you an appointment with my doctor,” my S.O. texted me, but I didn’t want to get another five minute visit with someone who’d just order the same tests that were no help the first seventeen times. I didn’t want to go through trying the same handful of acid reducers, only to end up anemic, covered in bruises, and feeling no better. I’d gone through a lot of trouble to find a doctor whose approach seemed like one that would actually help me, who my insurance would cover. We’d already filled out the new patient paperwork and sent it in, why wasn’t this office answering their damn phone? 

I was having a low point when I decided to pull out one of my tarot decks. What could I do to help myself heal? It feels like I’ve tried everything I can, physically speaking. Taking more Mylanta probably isn’t going to help at this point. I had my doubts about eating nothing but banana smoothies for a(nother) month. FODMAPs was already a flop. What else was there for me to do?

2ofcupsThe Two of Cups.

The Cups are the cards of emotions, and the Two of Cups is full of partnership imagery — a pair of figures, the twining snakes of the staff of Hermes. While it doesn’t always mean a romantic partnership, it does point to one where both people are very emotionally invested in the same endeavor.

Right now, my goal is getting well (or, if not well, then at least less awful). I know my S.O. is invested in it, too, or he wouldn’t be filing paperwork and making calls. My approach obviously isn’t working, or I’d have an appointment by now. It seems like I need to defer to the other person in this partnership — he cares about my well-being just as much as I do, just as I care about his. If I’m going to listen to anybody right now, it should probably be the other person with a vested interest on keeping me on the right side of the dirt, you know?

I asked him to call his doctor.

Fingers crossed.

 

The King of Wands

Ever have a card that ends up showing up a bunch? Seemingly out of the blue, it starts showing up in every reading you receive or do for yourself.

Right now, I’ve got the Kind of Wands.

Across multiple decks (he’s been a crow, a man, and even a taxidermy fish in a squirrel suit), he keeps showing up. The first time was when I tried a very interesting three-card reading — how you see yourself and how others see you, versus how you really are. Ever since then, any time I have a question about feeling sure about my place in the world, or keeping up my confidence, he’s there. The funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever received the King of Wands in a reading before then. Not when I pulled cards for myself, not when I paid for a reading by someone else, not even when my ex’s stepmother was teaching me to read.

kingwandsIn truth, I could do a lot worse than the King of Wands. He’s a leader. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, he’s holding a blossoming branch that symbolizes verdant life and the energy of creativity. He’s surrounded by symbols of strength, nobility, and the element of fire. In the Crow Tarot, he is a sign that focus and energy will ensure a successful outcome. In the Deviant Moon Tarot, he’s a charismatic (if easily annoyed) leader or innovator. In the Regretsy Tarot, he is a fish in a squirrel suit.

The King of Wands is a determinator. If he wants to throw his weight behind something, it will blossom. If he doesn’t, it will wither. As a King, he is less impetuous than a Knight. Unfortunately, that also means that the success or failure of an opportunity rests entirely on the King’s willingness to act on it. No pressure, or anything.

I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Even during the times when I know exactly what I need to do to feel happy and successful, health challenges mean that I don’t always have the ability to do them. Here, at least, it seems like the King of Wands is a reassurance that all isn’t lost — I can still achieve what I want with energy and focus.

 

The Hermit

I get a lot of use out of social media. Sure, it’s got its flaws. When you’ve moved around as much as I have, though, it’s a pretty useful way to stay in touch with the people who’re important to you. (Especially when your local postal service can charitably be called “unreliable.”)

Still, there’s something about it that makes me dread using it. Every scroll through my feed is a list of the worst headlines from the last news cycle, friends arguing, and edgelords edgelording, occasionally interspersed with pictures of kittens. It’s a lot to keep up with, and it amazes me how much mental energy it ends up sapping — and I don’t have that much to start with.

Stepping back from it really bothers me, though. Call it FOMO, I guess, or at least the fear of losing touch. But is it even worth it when it leaves me feeling drained and anxious within minutes, and most of the news stories I read are things I’ve read elsewhere? A lot of my social media is private, and I’m not exactly writing to an audience of millions — what does it matter if I like or re-post the stories my friends have most likely already seen? At what point does it become purely performative?

Mental energy is a precious resource for anyone, but I depend really heavily on it to pay my bills. If I can’t stand being online, I can’t write for my clients. If I’m too agitated to focus, I can’t make things. As obvious as that seems now, there was a long while where I didn’t realize it — it felt like that agitation and mental fatigue were normal. They were the cost of participating, or something I had to put up with in order to keep in touch with people and signal boost things I care about.

It seems like such a Millennial problem, doesn’t it? But with six states under my belt and my mobility restricted by my health, social media has become more important to me than it probably otherwise would have. On one hand, this isn’t entirely a good thing (otherwise I wouldn’t be fussing about it now). On the other, I can’t imagine how isolated I’d end up feeling otherwise. I like being somewhat itinerant. I’m an extrovert, and I thrive on meeting new people. The flip side to that is that it’s extra rough when I end up leaving them behind.

On a lark, I pulled a few cards from a tarot deck I recently picked up. I didn’t have any pressing concerns, just wanted to get a feel for the energy of the cards and see what they were like to read from.

“How can I put more into my art and writing,” I asked, “And get to a point where I’m more fulfilled creatively?”

And I got The Hermit.

thehermit

The Hermit is alone, but not lonely. This card expresses a need for introspection, a meditative period away from distraction. It’s dedication to a goal, and a solid understanding of the path that he is on. The Hermit has to turn inward first, before he can find understanding.

In other words, he needs to be the hell off of Facebook so he can learn a thing.

… Okay, so, in retrospect, this seems head-smashingly obvious. Still, on the tail end of about three entire minutes of Twitter, it really clicked for me. Putting myself through the wringer of reading, liking, and re-tweeting post after post about the worst the world has to offer isn’t really doing much good, even in a signal boosting sense. I don’t want to get all gift-shop-driftwood-plaque-with-the-word-“Breathe”-painted-on-it, but I need to stop this. It’s definitely not improving me as a person, and I don’t think it’s even really helping anyone else.

So, I’m experimenting with another social media hiatus. I’m still updating my Instagram and other strictly blog- and shop-related things, but I really need to figure out better ways to internet while maintaining my sanity.

 

 

 

Deepening Resilience: Hoping for the best, expecting the worst.

Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here

“Climate change” seems like such a soft term, doesn’t it? George Carlin talked about how euphemistic “global warming” and the “greenhouse effect” sounded, and I agree with him — warm sounds cozy, a house is a home, and greenhouses grow things. Climate change doesn’t really seem to encapsulate the full scope of acidifying oceans, dust-choked air, and the creeping horror of feeling your muscles freeze stiff in the deathgrip of a polar vortex, either.

If you can’t tell, I find the whole thing pretty frightening.

Part of it is that I worry for all of the people hurt the worst by it. This is especially true because the people most affected by climate change are women, especially those in developing nations where poor infrastructure creates additional barriers to preparedness. As long as low income women are the ones experiencing the worst of climate change, you will never get the people capable of making a global impact to care.

Part of it is knowing how many animals suffer because of climate change. Unless they’re cute and marketable, though, the people capable of making a global impact still won’t care.

Part of it is a gnawing dread, like watching a slow-motion car wreck. Knowing that there is a tipping point at which we can no longer do anything (how are we going to capture all of the methane currently trapped in melting ice?). Knowing that we’re pretty much there. Knowing that those with the ability to hit the breaks, aren’t.

Part of it is pure self-interest. Extremes in temperature mess me up. The heat makes my brain feel like its being crushed, I can’t breathe, and my heart pounds. The cold makes every limb feel swarmed with fire ants. Knowing that these extremes are only going to be worse, and come more often, isn’t comforting.

Climate change isn’t necessarily the kind of thing you can prepare for. Sure, you can develop a Bartertown-style compound for surviving a Mad Maxesque, worst-case-scenario apocalypse, but that only lasts as long as your ability to defend it does. Investing in gold or other concrete things would make for a great updated retelling of The Cock and the Jewel. Land and supplies are only as good as your ability to keep them, and even the most ardent stockpiler will run out of bullets, eventually.

Personally, I’m not sure how I’d prepare even if I were entirely able-bodied. I know how to grow food and forage, but this is only helpful as long as the right conditions for growing things last. With the weather weirding and disappearing pollinators, I have no misapprehensions about being able to feed myself. I have other useful skills I could barter, but that isn’t really bankable in such an extreme scenario.

I feel the most prepared when I open myself to the possibility of disaster. It might sound fatalistic, but death positivity has done more to help make me an effective person than anything else. When I embrace the fact that everything is probably not going to be okay, when I can look in the face of the absolute certainty that I’m going to die of something at some point, it’s freeing because I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I can hope and work for the best, but expect (and accept) the worst. Death, itself, holds no fear for me.

As trite as it is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are things that can be done now (not “things we can do” — there is very little, on a day-to-day level, that individuals can do to stop climate change), and the people preventing them are not gods.